Unlike most Rendell novels, this is not a mystery, and hardly even a murder. The story is set chiefly inside a small suburban house. Three people live in the house, then two. We are fully aware of what happened to the third person - who did what to whom, and why. And what happened afterwards.
In general terms, this is the story of the deterioration of a marriage, spurred on by the presence of a vindictive mother-in-law. More specifically, it is an examination of the unsavoury mind of Stanley Manning, who is obsessed by greed and crossword puzzles, and who is eventually brought down by violet cachous and a bit of genealogy.
The book belongs to the days before DNA tests, so Stanley will forever be blamed for a murder he connived at but didn't commit, and as things pan out, it rather looks as if nobody (except you, dear reader) will ever know the truth about Auntie Ethel. However, the whole thing was Stanley's fault from start to finish, and his comeuppance is wholely deserved.
When I first started the book, it felt a bit claustrophobic and I wasn't sure that I would want to read to the end, but I was quickly drawn into the story and anxious to find out how... or whether... this complete waste-of-space could extricate himself from the web of deceit he was weaving. It is not vintage Rendell, but very enjoyable nonetheless, and if you are partial to the occasional cryptic crossword clue, Stanley won't disappoint.